My next novel, Mencken and the Monsters, will be out in a little over a month. While I wait for editors to get back to me with notes, I’ve started working on the next installment of the Defense of Reality series. It’s a prequel to Mencken and the Monsters. The working title is The 12 Commandments (but I’m probably going to change it). Here is a sneak peak of the 1st chapter.
“So, did he learn anything?” Chris said with doubt. The lean, sandy-haired, warrior in polo and jeans leaned against the iron black railing. His body spoke calm, but his attentive blue eyes communicated readiness. He had yet to look Jose in eye.
“He was great,” Moose replied. “Best student I’ve ever had.”
Jose smiled at his shoes. The compliment warmed his chest.
Chris snorted in reply. “He’s the only student you’ve had.”
“And?” Moose shot back with a smile. Moose, one of the DC based Gracanjo, was a short, African-American twenty-something with shoulder length dreadlocks. Over the past six months of training, Jose had come to think of her as a big sister, even though they were close to the same height.
“I’m just happy to have you home,” Squirrel interjected. “It’s lonely out here by myself.” In contrast to his partner, at six-foot-three Squirrel towered over the rest of the cohort. During the bus ride back from Centralia, Jose had wondered what Moose’s partner was like. Moose had said Squirrel was tall, but everyone was tall in comparison to Moose. Jose wasn’t prepared for the man in front of him who looked like he could play power-forward in the NBA.
“Oh, are these big bad streets to tough for you to handle all by yourself?” Reggie mocked with child-like intonation. Reginald, half of the Gracanjo pair from Annapolis, wore a red plaid flannel that matched his unkempt, red beard. He hid his thinning hair under a cheap-black stocking cap.
“Fuck you, with your dumb-ass lumberjack bitch,” Squirrel barked. “Ain’t like no shit ever happens in your piece of shit, wannabe suburb, hipster-ass, bullshit burg, bitch. Why the fuck are you even here, bitch? Huh, bitch?”
“Screw you,” Reggie shot back. “We get as much action as you do.”
Squirrel jerked his hand back and forth in the air. “We ain’t talkin’ about that kind of action, you little Ron Swanson wannabe bitch.”
“Chris told me to come. He invited me,” Reggie said.
“Where’s your partner, bitch? You lose another one, bitch? Moose or me need to go train a new one for you to guard the dangerous streets of Annapolis, Maryland. Um, excuse me, sir, Mr. Mardock,” Squirrel said in his best professorial voice. “Could you please hold your rampage while I finish my latte? It’s perfectly frothed. Get the fuck out of here you lost-my-axe-in-the-woods-bitch, with your little bitch hat. Bitch.”
“That’s enough, Squirrel,” Moose said quietly.
The five warriors stood in a circle at the entrance to the Greenbelt metro station on the north side of Washington DC. Moose and Jose’s bus from Pennsylvania had only arrived a few minutes before. Chris, Squirrel, and Reggie were already there, waiting in silence. Jose imagined that to the average passerby, the group of five looked like an odd homeless convention – five crazy looking vagrants meeting at the metro to swap pan-handling techniques and trade secrets about the art of dumpster diving for food.
“Whose approach did you teach him?” Chris asked, unmoved by the antics around him, still looking at Moose. Jose stared at his partner. He wished he and Squirrel could trade. Moose was kind. She had a gentle smile. The days of training had been hard, but at night they would cook marshmallows over a campfire, drink cool aid, and make up stories about pictures they saw in the stars. Moose told great stories. Jose had known Chris for two weeks before leaving to train. He’d never seen the man smile, and Chris never told stories.
“Little of mine. Little of yours,” Moose said. “You know I’m not down with all your ninja shit. You’ll have to teach him that yourself.”
“Any live combat?” Chris asked.
“Nah,” Moose said. “I stuck to protocol. I explained the races to him though, but he hasn’t seen any real action. Just practice.”
“It’s all good, little man,” Squirrel said rubbing Jose’s shaved head. “You already got more experience than Mr. Lumberjack-Annapolis-bitch here.”
“Fuck you, Squirrel,” Reginald said.
“You can try, you little bitch,” Squirrel laughed.
“I don’t need this shit,” Reggie said.
“Did you teach him the rules?” Chris asked Moose.
“No way,” Moose said. “That’s your job.”
“In Annapolis they be like, ‘The first commandment is,’” Squirrel said, putting back on his professorial voice, “never drink coffee after ten, and never drink tea before noon.”
“That’s enough,” Moose said to her partner. Squirrel laughed to himself and folded his arms across his chest.
“Why am I here?” Reggie demanded.
“I spoke with Hyoi about the increase in activity,” Chris said. The words heightened the tension of the circle. Moose, Squirrel, and Reginald instinctively held their breaths, waiting for the next word like a poor man with four correct Powerball numbers waits for the fifth to be chosen.
“He said the Tinker has put a bounty out on a box, and he thinks it’s in our region,” Chris said.
“A box?” Moose asked.
“I don’t know anymore. All Hyoi told me was there is something here the Tinker wants, and he’ll pay big to get it, so we should plan for an increase in the frequency of raiding parties crossing the Veil until they find it.”
“What if we find this box first?” Reggie asked.
“Hyoi said to have your Relay reach out. He’ll come and get it,” Chris said.
“This is bull-shit,” Moose complained. “We don’t work for that purple-eyed, asshole. How do we know he isn’t the one sending these pieces-of-shit across? Maybe he’s just blaming the Tinker. I ain’t never seen the damn Tinker, but I’ve seen way too much of Hyoi and Bashi’s asses.”
Chris sighted in agreement.
“If you see that snotty-ass-fuck again,” Squirrel added. “You tell him he isn’t welcome in DC. I’ll gut his fucking ass.”
Chris nodded again.
“Crystal and I will let you know if we find anything,” Reggie said to Chris.
“Crystal alright?” Moose asked.
“Yeah,” Reggie replied looking at the sidewalk. “We had a rough one last night. She’s sleeping it off.”
Squirrel laughed again.
“Tell her I said hello,” Moose offered.
“If no one else has any business,” Chris said. “I suggest we all get back to work. If you find this box, send word. The sooner it’s back on their side, the better.”
“Agreed,” Moose said.
Chris reached out and shook Moose’s hand. “Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time.”
“Absolutely,” Moose said.
Chris shook Reginald’s hand next. “Thank you for coming, and don’t be a hero. You find something, send word.”
“You got it,” Reggie said.
Chris took Squirrel’s hand last, “I appreciate you giving up your partner to train mine.”
“Yo,” Squirrel replied, using both his hands to receive Chris’ hand in a sign of respect. “Anything for the Blur. I still owe you for that time in LeDroit Park. Don’t think I forgot about you saving our asses.”
Moose turned to face Jose. Placing her hands on his shoulders she said, “You’re going to be fine.”
Jose smiled and nodded. He was embarrassed by the knot in his throat. He was afraid he might cry. He didn’t want to cry, not here. Not in front of his new partner.
“Just listen to what he says,” she continued. “Like I told you, he’s the best. Do what he tells you, and you’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” Jose said softly. He could feel the warmth in his eyes. He looked down and swallowed to try and push it back.
Moose pulled the young teen in, and embraced him. “I’ll see you again,” she whispered in his ear. “Stay alive, and I’ll see you again.”
“Okay,” Jose said again.
Moose let him go, and then turned him to face Chris. “He’s a good one,” she said to Chris. “You take care of him.”
Chris looked down at Jose for the first time. Jose felt the weight of expectation in Chris’ gaze as Chris looked him up and down. “Let’s go kid,” Chris said.
The huddle of five broke. Moose and Squirrel happily walked to the concrete entrance of the metro station. Reggie went left, toward the Southside of parking lot, disappearing in the rows upon rows of cars. Jose followed Chris to the Northside of the parking lot. To a passerby, it must have seemed like the end of an impromptu homeless convention.
Chris silently led Jose to an old, beat up, faded blue BMW. The rusted emblem hung with all its might to the trunk. Without word, Jose went to the passenger side. Opening the back door, he placed his tattered backpack next to Chris’ green duffle bag. He then took a seat in the front, passenger side.
Chris revved the engine of the car. Before pulling out of the parking spot, he looked over at his new partner and said, “Your real education begins now.”